In the wake of #IStandWithAhmed
the name Taylor Wilson has come up numerous times. People are comparing a 14 year old who disassembled a clock, put it in a metal case and took it to school to show his teacher with a 14 year old who created his own Fusion Reactor and built a radiation detector (which normally cost 100's of 1,000's of dollars) for only a few hundred dollars, later going on to create a FISSION REACTOR which can provide 30 years of energy but doesn't require weapons grade uranium. The part that bothers me about this comparison is when people say that Taylor did not get into trouble because he's white. Ever heard of David Hahn? He was also white and at the age of 17, attempted to build a breeder nuclear reactor, earning him the title of Radioactive Boy Scout and leading to his arrest (even though he was white). His work shed was then buried underground somewhere in Utah as low-level radioactive waste.
Now, on the bright side, Taylor went on to earn a lot of money in the form of research grants for his work. Ahmed has also earned a sizable amount in the form of donations and free school offers from people who support his future ventures. Both of these boys get to share the spotlight at the White House and will be honored as Google Science Fair entrants (not concurrently).
Taylor's story began much like David Hahn's, with a brilliant, high-flying child hatching a crazy plan to build a nuclear reactor. Why did one journey end with hazmat teams and an eventual arrest, while the other continues to produce an array of prizes, patents, television appearances, and offers from college recruiters? Despite both being white?
The answer is, mostly, support. Hahn, determined to achieve something extraordinary but discouraged by the adults in his life, pressed on without guidance or oversight—and with nearly catastrophic results. Taylor, just as determined but socially gifted, managed to gather into his orbit people who could help him achieve his dreams: the physics professor; the older nuclear prodigy; the eccentric technician; the entrepreneur couple who, instead of retiring, founded a school to nurture genius kids. There were several more, but none so significant as Tiffany and Kenneth, the parents who overcame their reflexive—and undeniably sensible—inclinations to keep their Icarus-like son on the ground. Instead they gave him the wings he sought and encouraged him to fly up to the sun and beyond, high enough to capture a star of his own.
Fortunately Ahmed is getting the support of every person who's read any article that mentions his name and any critics are immediately labeled racists and Islamophobes. With good guidance and discipline, he will go far in life. He already has the funding and contacts, which are two things many child prodigies will never find. I have a long list of students that I know of that won't ever get an invite to the White House because no matter how ground-breaking their research is, they just don't have the publicity. I only wish more students would show up to school with unidentified electronics and they could all get a free ride to MIT and tweets from the POTUS. Do you think this could be the beginning of a new trend?